Friday, January 8, 2016

How many of my publish-on-demand books should I order?

I mentioned in my last post that in 1990 I self-published a book of short stories that I found, decades later, to have some very minor typographic errors. As it happens, I dislike typos almost obsessively and I ended up pulping many hundreds of unread copies of the book. To me, the copes were worthless. Not only did I no longer want to sell them, I didn't want anyone to even read them.

So I came out with a 25th Anniversary Edition of the book, which has all the errors removed. But instead of ordering several thousand copies, as I had to at the time it was first published, I ordered 2. Instead of writing a check for $5000.00, I used PayPal to the tune of about $8, plus shipping. I have had a dozen or so books published since 1990, but it has taken me this long to finally get the message. Here it is: most published books contain errors; indie or self-published books contain even more. If you are terrified of people finding typos or other errors in your book, print as few as possible. Zero is even a possibility. Here's why: publish on demand.

Publish-on-demand companies take your uploaded manuscript file and cover illustration and create a professional-looking paperback copy of your book. Although there are many such companies, all with different policies, I use CreateSpace, even though it is owned by Amazon, who is generally no friend to authors. With CreateSpace I can upload my book file and cover for no charge. Zero. A small caveat here is that I am a professional formatter who also has enough knowledge of cover design to get by. Many people choose to pay for these services--either to CreateSpace or to private entities such as myself--but it is not required.

So let me make this clear. As soon as my book is approved by CreateSpace, it goes on sale worldwide, not only through CreateSpace, but through Amazon--the largest book distributor in history--as well. Your book cover and description will appear on Amazon search engines and on more general search engines like Google. Forever. The only reason you would actually have to pay CreateSpace a dime is if you wanted to order author copies for yourself or your friends. The cost on these depend, of course, on the number of pages and whether or not color is involved in the interior, but generally, for a 6 X 9-inch book of 250 pages--a fairly standard size--it will cost you in the neighborhood of $4 per copy, plus reasonable shipping. A bargain? You bet.

But--and this is the point of this post in case you were wondering--don't fly off the handle with excitement and order thousands or hundreds or even dozens of copies of your new masterpiece unless you are planning to go out on the road promoting them or you have copies pre-sold to people you know. Why? Because they have errors.

Here are a couple of cases in point. In my earlier post Why are there so many errors in self-published books? I mention my experience with a young author whose otherwise-excellent young adult novel had literally hundreds of errors, despite the fact that she had several advance readers. In another case, one of my own books was given a poor review because of an error that crept in during the conversion process from InDesign to Word. Luckily, this happened in the e-book only so it was quickly fixed and a new e-book file replaced the old one.

But what would have happened if the error had been in the printed version? Well, that's happened, too. I have published somewhere around a dozen books now, and there has never been a time when at least one typo or inconsistency was not pointed out to me. To my mind, those errors rendered the existing paperbacks worthless. By using a print-on-demand publisher, though, I was able to correct my book file within minutes. And because CreateSpace does not print a book until it is actually ordered, no unrevised copy of a book can ever be purchased.  Unless, of course, it is purchased as a used copy. And of course the fewer copies that are initially printed, the less chance there is of many used copies existing.

This post is not only for authors who publish themselves; it is also for those of you who publish thorough indie presses and have errors pointed out to you by your readers--readers like me. Most indie presses go through a publish-on-demand service just as I do. If they have chosen to have it print beaucoups copies of your book hoping for wonderful direct sales, they are not thinking clearly. And if they say that they can't afford to fix the errors that escaped their review process, they are lying. As I have posted earlier, the world is your editor.

I no longer give readings or make book-signing appearances. And because I no longer have to have a stack on hand, I now order only 2 copies of any book I print--enough for a casual sale and to have one in my bookcase for display. 99 percent of your books are going to be sold through Amazon anyway. Even if you do sell a few copies yourself, it only takes a week or two to receive new copies from CreateSpace. They are surprisingly fast. And when new errors crop up--and they will--you have lost almost nothing except a little pride.

So what can you do with all those error-filled copies of your book that you bought in the first excitement of its publication?  If you give them to a Goodwill store, people might buy them, see the errors, and give you a bad review on Goodreads or Amazon. You can donate them to a library, but then--same as the above. The only safe place to donate imperfect copies of your paperback books is to a prison library. Every prison has one, every prison needs donations, and prisoners generally don't notice grammatical errors or have access to Goodreads.

The only other solutions are to use them to fix the holes in your driveway or pulp them. Just hope that the people at the recycling station do not take them home, read them, and, well, you know.

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